Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: Assimilate or Go Home

D.L. Mayfield was 19 years old and she was going to be a missionary. But she quickly discovered that she wasn't very good at languages or asking random strangers what kind of God they believed in. None of the things she learned seemed like it would work with or help the people she encountered. Instead, she took a different tact: she started volunteering with the refugees who were flooding into her community. Eventually, she moved her small family into one of the low-income apartment buildings full of refugee families. And then she got to know them and let them know her. She stuck around long enough to be uncomfortable and offended and have her mind and her heart changed about just what it means to live as a person of faith and love your neighbor as yourself.

This slim book is set up to imitate the cycle that refugees experience when they finally arrive in a new place: anticipation, reality, depression, and acceptance. Mayfield candidly lays bare all of the mistakes she made, big and small. I appreciated that she wasn't cruel to herself in retrospect; rather, she admitted that she had grown and learned a great deal over the years.

There is a growing movement among Christianity that points out the inherent flaws in the concept of "short-term mission." This is the idea that you travel to a foreign country or the inner city for a week or two, do a program with the local children, build a house, and then go home feeling like you have made a difference. But Mayfield points out that this concept is damaging to both the people going and the people who are seen again and again as a problem to be solved with a skit and a free t-shirt. There is a difference between giving up a weekend and becoming truly invested in people.

She writes that "the problems seem to get more overwhelming, the longer you stay. The easy paint jobs got taken, the kids already ate your snacks and heard the stories you had prepared for them, your friend never followed up on the job interview you arranged for him...If you stay long enough you will learn just enough about the brokenness of the world that you will feel completely powerless, mired in your own brokenness and doubting God more often than you care to admit. It is easier to leave right after the prayers are prayed, right after somebody meets Jesus, while the tears are still fresh and the hope is solid enough to cut with a knife...And then we forget. We always forget--that comforting, calming, after-effect of our world."

Assimilate or Go Home is one of those books that takes up permanent residence in your mind, so you can think about it months after you are done with it. I can't decide if I want to start loaning it out immediately to every person I know or keep it close by, so I can re-read it again and again. D.L. Mayfield certainly doesn't claim to have all the answers, but she has some ideas about what God might really be calling us to do. Perhaps you are being called to the ministry of baking cakes for people who are moving away, or sitting in silence with someone whose heart is broken, or allowing yourself to be vulnerable and helped by others, or just seeing that great injustice and the love of Christ somehow both live in this beautiful, broken world.

Assimilate or Go Home:
Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith
By D.L. Mayfield
HarperOne August 2016
224 pages
From my shelves

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Phryne Fisher On the Page and On the Screen

A few months ago, I was perusing my Netflix queue and happened to find a show called Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. It looked fun, so I decided to give it a try. It became my favorite show to watch after the kids went to bed or when I tried to write a blog post during naptime.

Image result for phryne fisher

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries follows Phryne Fisher, who has come into a fortune later in life. She lives in Australia in the 1920s. Phryne is fabulous and she knows it. She ignores social convention by flaunting her lovers and even enjoying (!) her trysts. She drives her own car and is known to carry a gun (just in case). Our dear protagonist is hungry for knowledge and never content to leave a question unanswered. When local detective Jack Robinson finds her poking around his crime scene, he is initially irritated but soon discovers that Phryne is both charming and very good at solving mysteries. The two end up working together and the tension between the uninhibited Phryne and the very proper Jack is delightful.

There is also a fantastic roster of supporting characters including Phryne's butler (aptly named Mr. Butler); her ladies' maid/assistant Dot; Hugh, who works with Jack at the police station; and Burt and Cec, who help Phryne gather information. In the television show, these characters get enough screen time that you are almost in love with them as you are with Phryne herself.

Image result for phryne fisher

After I finished watching the show, I stumbled upon the book series and decided to see what was source material and what was unique to the television show. The books were published before the television show was created, but they were recently re-released with tie-in covers. I read Raisins and Almonds and Murder in the Dark, which are #9 and #16 in the series.

I remember watching Raisins and Almonds on tv. Phryne is pulled into the dark corners of Jewish politics after a man is murdered in a bookstore and the owner is wrongly arrested. I don't remember watching Murder in the Dark, but it's certainly possible that the story was changed significantly or I've just forgotten one episode! In that story, Phryne is invited to a huge party at an estate. The host is threatened and people start to go missing.


Both books gave me a good sense of Phryne herself, but I missed spending time with the secondary characters. They were almost entirely absent in one book and appeared periodically in the other. It also seemed to me that being forced to condense a story to just one episode made it tighter, as opposed to a sprawling 250 pages where you can devote pages to Phryne thinking or spend a page describing the lunch they are eating.

I will always be a big Phryne Fisher fan in whatever format I can find her. For someone new to the fabulous Phryne, the show or the books are a wonderful place to start. But I have to confess I think I will find myself re-watching the television show more often than I will be picking up another book.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

It's Monday in a very noisy house!

Hello friends! I'm writing this on Sunday evening, where I have managed to find a tiny pocket of peace and quiet. Maybe I'm just at peak introvert lately, but I feel like my beloved children have reached new and deafening levels of noise. Summer break should be great?

This week, I read and adored Marilynne Robinson's Home. I read Gilead a while ago and I am very much looking forward to reading Lila, the third book with those characters. I also read Ramona Blue, which is the newest book from Julie Murphy (of Dumplin' fame).


Next up for me is The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson.

What are you reading this week?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Sisters Saving Sisters

I have three younger sisters. We had our ups and downs as kids but as adults, I am happy to report that we are good friends. Sisterhood is a unique and powerful bond, whether you have sisters by blood or friends who become your family. Some of my favorite books have stories where ladies fight for their sisters or friends.

I finally grabbed Uprooted from my library after reading many rave reviews. Agnieszka lives in a small village with her family. Every ten years, a powerful wizard comes and takes one girl to live with him and Agnieszka knows it will be her best friend Kasia. Instead, he picks Agnieszka and takes her away to live in his secluded tower. It would have been easy for the story to be divided into her early life in the village and her time with the wizard, but the bond between the two friends is an important part of the story throughout. Agnieszka and Kasia are willing to face impossible odds to save their friend and come back to help each other again and again. The two are different in personality, but both of them are brave and committed to the people they love.


Last year I read A Thousand Nights, a retelling of the story by the very talented E.K. Johnston. Our unnamed protagonist is taken by the king to be the newest in the string of wives he marries and then murders. She manages to stay alive by telling the king stories of her childhood and family, but her sisters assumes that she is dead. Grieving and enraged, she prays that her sister will be made into a smallgod. Her dedication to her sister does indeed give power to the queen, who is very much alive and will soon need every bit of strength and power she can use.

I really enjoyed these books, particularly their portrayals of the power and importance of bonds between women. So today I want all of your recommendations. What are other books where women risk everything for their sisters?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Netgalley mini-reviews: The F Word and Lili DeJong

Olivia Morten seems to have a perfect life, but it is actually a carefully crafted facade. Olivia can spin anything, in her career as a publicist or in her personal life. When her crush from high school comes back into her life, her constructed life starts to fall apart. Olivia realizes that her friends are vapid, her husband is not invested in their marriage, and her beautiful, successful life is not making her happy. She finds herself reflecting on the girl she was in high school--she was fat and unpopular, but she knew who she was. Can she find that girl again?

I am a new Liza Palmer reader. I happened to read her book Girl Before a Mirror last year and really enjoyed it. But The F Word didn't work for me quite as well. Olivia is apparently a character in another of Palmer's books, which I haven't read. She might make more sense as a character if you have the whole picture. But within this book, Olivia is a tough character to follow. She has built up such a wall that it's difficult to get to know her. Maybe Olivia herself doesn't even know, and that's really apparent in her relationships with her husband Adam and Ben, the boy from high school. She has ignored Adam's infidelity for years and when things finally explode, she decides that she's done with that relationship. Instead, she focuses on Ben, who was cruel to her in high school. I wish we had more insight into Olivia and Ben in high school and their relationship then. It would have made their interactions in the present more significant. While this story wasn't my favorite, I can certainly see myself giving another Liza Palmer novel a try.

The F Word
By Liza Palmer
Flatiron Books April 2017
288 pages
Read via Netgalley

Lilli has big hopes for the future. Her brother and her fiance have gone to find good jobs and have promised to send for her when they are settled. But her life quickly takes a turn when she discovers she is pregnant. There is no way her father and new stepmother or Quaker community will support her, so Lilli finds sanctuary at the Philadelphia Haven for Women and Infants. After her daughter is born, she is expected to give her up and go back to her life. But Lilli quickly learns that she cannot part with her baby and decides to do whatever it takes to keep her child safe.

Lilli de Jong is told as a series of diary entries as Lilli details the love she shares with Johan, her hopes for the future, and her quick descent from an honorable woman to someone with no place to call home. In some ways, this book reminded me of Pamela, where we see seemingly the whole world act cruelly towards one young woman. But Benton does a wonderful job of showing just how impossible it was to be a single mother in the 19th century. It's sobering to think about how things have changed and how they still haven't; if you are a parent and have no one to care for your child, how can you work? If you can't work, how can you provide for a child? Through it all, Lilli remains steadfast and determined to keep the child she loves.

Lilli de Jong
By Janet Benton
Nan A. Talese May 2017
352 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, June 12, 2017

It's Monday and I read three books this week!

Hello again! How is everyone doing? It's been a busy and productive week around the literary house. I've been checking lots of things off of my to-do list, which is a lovely feeling. The weekend was busy, but good. We had a picnic after church (I made a pie) and then we relaxed at home. We finished Sunday night in the best way possible, by watching the Tony Awards of course!

This week I read Waking Gods, which is the sequel to Sleeping Giants. I enjoyed it just as much as the first book and am now impatiently waiting for the last book in the trilogy to come out. I also read Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield and Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan.

On the blog this week, I wrote a review of A Bridge Across the Ocean and I wrote a post about Jami Attenberg's new book All Grown Up and how the protagonist is being held up as the long-awaited single female protagonist.

Now I'm reading Marilynne Robinson's Home


What are you reading this week?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Thoughts on All Grown Up and Single Protagonists

Jami Attenberg's All Grown Up has been heralded as a much-needed addition to modern literature. The book's protagonist is a woman named Andrea who is nearing her 40s and is unmarried and without children. In the world of books, this makes her somewhat of a unique protagonist and readers are (rightly) clamoring to read more stories about women who make the choice to not marry or become mothers.

But after reading this book, I wonder if this is really the story about singleness that we want. I will never dispute that Jami Attenberg is a deeply gifted writer. I greatly enjoyed her book Saint Maisie and the writing in All Grown Up is a pleasure to read. But if we are holding up the character of Andrea as symbolic of singleness, I find myself feeling very worried and a little sad.

Andrea is a mess. The cover copy talks about the different perceptions of adulthood that everyone around her seems to hold; the problem is that Andrea seems to hold none at all. She is single not because she does not want to be in a long term relationship, but rather because she sabotages the ones she is in. She knows that she drinks too much and occasionally gives therapy a whirl, but seems to abandon it almost immediately. She hates her job, but does nothing to get a different one or even to find a hobby or activity that would give her some joy or sense or purpose. 

The buzz surrounding this book hails Andrea as someone who defies social expectations by choice. That is a book I want to read. But this story seems to be rather about a woman who is stuck and doesn't know what to do. She has no idea how to make a life for herself. She clings to her own mother, while ignoring or actively shunning her best friend and brother who have recently become parents. She regularly complains about, cancels plans with, or is cruel to the people in her life and then acts shocked when they don't make time for her in their lives. Andrea worries frequently that she's not grown-up because she hasn't checked off specific boxes in life. As a reader, the only way I wanted her to grow up was to learn how to better take care of herself and the people in her life. 

I wanted Andrea to be happy. I wanted her to make better choices when it came to her relationships with her family, friends, and lovers. I wanted her to find a job that didn't make her miserable and realize that she too was allowed to do things that made her feel fulfilled. Andrea used to be an artist and later in the book, she tell us why she abandoned it. I found myself wishing that someone had told her (and many other people) that loving art or music or acting doesn't mean you have to do those things professionally. There is room in life for things that just make us happy. 

Let's not hold Andrea Bern up as the single protagonist we've all been waiting for. I hope instead to read about characters who are making the choice to not get married or start families who are working towards goals, achieving amazing things, and learning about themselves and the world in which they live. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Review: A Bridge Across the Ocean

Brette Caslake has a unique gift: she can see and hear ghosts. When a former classmate asks her for a favor, she visits the RMS Queen Mary. The ship carried hundreds of war brides from Europe to American after World War II and is rumored to be haunted. When Brette digs into the past, she makes unexpected discoveries about two women who roomed together on that voyage. Simone Devereux became an orphan when her father died for the French Resistance and now she is going to meet the wounded American who fell in lover with her. Her roommate on the ship is Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina who still seems to be looking over her shoulder.

In A Bridge Across the Ocean, we have another historical fiction/present day story. Meissner does this dual narrative better than most writers. The stories of Simone and Annaliese in particular are very well-written. I would have read an entire book about either one of them and anxiously turned pages to find out what happened to them. Both women faced horrible things during the war and the end of the war doesn't necessarily mean the end of danger.

In the present, we witness Brette dealing with her ability to interact with ghosts. A dual narrative story with ghosts would usually be just the thing to make me put a book aside, but Meissner pulls it off with aplomb. While you may not be convinced that ghosts exist (much less interact with people), Brette's difficulties make it clear just how much it could mess up your life if they did.

A Bridge Across the Ocean is a great addition to the shelves of historical fiction fans. The focus on war brides' brave journey to a new country to be reunited with husbands they hardly knew is a unique and compelling one, and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you reading until the final secret is revealed.

A Bridge Across the Ocean
By Susan Meissner
Berkley Books March 2017
368 pages
Read for the She Reads Book Club

Monday, June 5, 2017

It's Monday and we had a great weekend!

Hi everyone! So I kind of fell off of the face of the earth this week, but there was a very good reason.

My mom celebrated a big birthday this year. The actual day of her birthday was pretty quiet, but we really made up for it! On Thursday, she left for what she thought was a weekend away with my dad. Instead, she got a weekend away at this fantastic log cabin in the Catskills with her husband, all of her children (including the one who lives on the West Coast), one son-in-law, two boyfriends of said children, and two grandchildren.

It was a really wonderful few days, but it took quite a bit of planning to make it all happen and keep it a surprise until my parents arrived at the cabin!

I am hoping to get some reviews written this week but, until then, let's talk books. I finished reading The Dirt Cure and find myself incensed at the lack of food regulation in this country and how corrupt it can be. I'm also pondering some ways to make sure that my children are eating better food. During our trip, I read another Phryne Fisher mystery and now I am racing through Waking Gods (Themis Files #2) before I need to take it back to the library.


What are you reading this week?

Monday, May 29, 2017

It's Monday. How is your long weekend?

Hello fellow readers! My son only has a few weeks left in school and we are looking at preschools for my daughter to attend in the fall. We've been making plans for some trips this summer and I am very excited to spend some good family time this week! What are you doing for Memorial Day?

This week, I read Murder in the Dark (a Phryne Fisher mystery) and got my comics fix with March volume 2 and Saga volume 7


I'm currently reading The Dirt Cure, which my sister lent to me. The book is all about the ways food affects our bodies and health, particularly when it comes to children.

What are you reading right now?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: Exit West

Saeed and Nadia meet in class and soon they are smitten with each other. But their situation is more difficult than most young people in love: it's difficult to see your girlfriend or boyfriend when traveling through the city involves checkpoints and rubble and you may never make it to your destination. There have been whispers in their city about mysterious doors that can take you to somewhere safe, as long as you are willing to pay. The offices where Saeed and Nadia work are soon closed and Saeed's mother is killed while searching for a lost earring in her car. They couple decides that they might not get another chance and make arrangements to walk through a door. But what awaits them on the other side?

This is an astonishing book that is so realistic, with just a touch of magic. The magical doors are never explained and only appear in the story in very specific moments. But the possibility of freedom that they provide changes everything for our protagonists. This story is not set in any specific country, but it's not difficult to imagine several places where Saeed and Nadia might reside.

"It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class--in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding--but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does."

When you start reading such a book, you might imagine that their story will be through the door from danger to safety. But it is not that easy. Life as a refugee is complicated and the young couple finds themselves unwelcome in many places. The heartbreak of this book comes from the relentlessness of the problems they face and people's willingness to ignore the danger, heartbreak, and uncertainty of those looking for a safe place to call home. It is also not limited to Nadia and Saeed, as we get brief looks into the lives of fates of others who go through the doors to make a better life or find a hostile reception on the other side.

Exit West feels incredibly timely as we see refugees flee their war-torn and impoverished countries. It will certainly make you consider how and why those of us who live in relative security might work to make space and opportunity for others. But perhaps the saddest thing is that it is also a timeless book: there have always been people forced from their homes, searching for a safe harbor.

Exit West
By Mohsin Hamid
Riverhead Books March 2017
231 pages
From the library

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's Monday. What are you reading?

Hi again! It's been one of those weeks with lots of running around (the usual chaos when you have two kids and a few jobs to juggle). We did enjoy a very leisurely Sunday afternoon, which felt very needed. Sundays are at least partly work days for the husband and me, so it was nice to get in a nap this afternoon and just spend time reading, watching some tv, and planning for the upcoming week.

This week, I finished Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. Then I read The Bedlam Stacks, which comes out this August, and sped through All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg.


Next up? I will be trying to fill the Phryne Fisher sized hole in my heart by reading the books, specifically Murder in the Darksince I finished watching the tv series. I'm also looking forward to starting Lab Girl as my next audiobook.

What are you reading right now?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Nonfiction mini-reviews Keeping Place and The Parents' Guide to Boys

The Israelites wandered through the wilderness before finally getting home. In the 21st century, we look for our homes too as many of us change addresses every few years. Jen Pollock Michel proposes that we search for home precisely because we can't find it on this earth; while we can do the work of homemaking here, we won't truly be at home until we are reunited with God.

The first half of the book is about why home is so important to us and the second focuses on the work of home--the things we do to make a comfortable and inviting place in our houses, within our families, and in our church communities. I loved that Michel clarified that this book was not just about women and women's work; rather, this is work for all people. It's about who we are and where we belong. Michel combines research, Scripture, and her own experiences of moving and looking for community to write a book that will resonate with every reader who is longing for a place to feel at home.

Keeping Place
By Jen Pollock Michel
IVP Books May 2017
237 pages
Read via Netgalley

Abigail Norfleet James is the mother of a son and a teacher at a school for boys. She often wondered if boys learn in unique ways and so she set out to do some research and record her own experiences about boys in school. In this book, James parses the ways that boys and girls learn differently and then takes parents from infancy through high school with tips for ensuring that your son gets the most out of his education.

This book is described as advice for helping your son through school but a majority of the book tells parents to stay out of it, especially as your son gets older (which is good advice). But this leaves readers with a book on the longer side that is full of general parenting info that you probably already know. So, if you are just starting out on this crazy journey of reading through parenting books, this guide will probably have some wisdom for you. Otherwise, I might use that limited reading time before the kids need another drink of water or want to come sleep in your bed to read something else.

The Parents' Guide to Boys:
Help Your Son Get the Most Out of School and Life
By Abigail Norfleet James
Live Oak Book Company April 2012
338 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, May 15, 2017

It's Monday and I'm reading again!

Hey fellow bibliophiles! I meant to get this post up earlier, but things can be a a little crazy around here with getting errands done for the week and trying to keep up with a certain little girl.

This past week has been an eventful one. My daughter turned four. My husband's birthday was the same day...he turned a different age, though! I worked Friday and then had a meeting on Saturday. Sunday was church and going out with my parents to celebrate Mother's Day, of course.

I'm pleased to report that I am getting through books again! This week, I finished City of God, The Home That Was Our Country, and Cinnamon and Gunpowder. I also read Music for Wartime, a short story collection I didn't get to read for the 24 Hour Readathon.

            The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria  Music for Wartime: Stories

I finished up Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott this morning and next up is The Bedlam Stacks.

What are you reading this week?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Audiobook Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle is pretty sure he doesn't need anybody. He doesn't exactly have friends, his older brother is in prison, and his parents seem to be silent about the things that really matter. One day at the local pool, he meets a boy named Dante who seems effortlessly comfortable with who he is. The two boys strike up an unlikely friendship. It's good that the friends found each other, because Aristotle and Dante are about to be challenged in ways they never imagined.

I listened to this as an audiobook, which is narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda. You may know him from a little show called Hamilton. Miranda is a perfect narrator and I will forever think of his voice as Ari's. This is not just the skill of the narrator though; Benjamin Alire Saenz has written an unforgettable protagonist with a unique way of looking at the world.

I loved the way that Saenz wrote the relationships between the boys and their parents. As the story progresses, we see both sets of parents open up to the boys and become more honest with their older children. I enjoyed seeing good parents try the best that they could to relate to and guide their sons, in spite of their very different parenting styles.

I had a little bit of trouble getting into this one, but I'm glad I stuck it out. Ari and Dante are at that terrible place in adolescence where you are no longer a kid, but you aren't sure how to navigate being an adult. They have the added trouble of figuring out how to be seen as men and whether or not they are allowed to show emotions or compassion. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is the kind of book that reminds you of the power of friendship, and how your life can be radically changed just by having someone who will take you as you are, who can laugh with you and ponder the big questions of life. It's also a story of first love and the way that it can be simple to fall in love with your best friend, even if it isn't always easy.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
By Benjamin Alire Saenz
Narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Simon and Schuster Audio April 2013
7 hours, 29 minutes
Listened to via Overdrive and my library

Sunday, May 7, 2017

It's Monday and the reading is slow

Hello lovely reading people!

So I feel like I've been reading The Home That Was Our Country for a million years. It's only 350 pages, but I started it two weeks ago! That's not the only thing I'm reading this week though; I'm also reading E.L. Doctorow's City of God and listening to Cinnamon and Gunpowder


I hope this week has more reading time than the last one. What are you reading?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Review: The Keeper of Lost Things

Anthony Peardew has been keeping lost things for a long time. On the day his fiance died, Anthony lost something precious that she had given him and he has never been able to forgive himself. As a kind of penance, Anthony retrieves lost things in the hope of one day reuniting them with their owners. In his last days, he leaves his house and all of the lost things inside it to his assistant Laura. Now it is her job to return all of the items and maybe rediscover how to open up to people again.

The Keeper of Lost Things is Ruth Hogan's debut novel and it is an utterly charming one. The heart of this book is its characters. Laura plays the straight woman to quirky Anthony, an optimistic neighbor with Down syndrome, and a handsome gardener. There is a lot of humor and heart to be found within these pages. This book would almost be a buoyant read, if it weren't for the real emotional weight from the the characters' loss of both people and possessions.

This story is a carefully orchestrated revealing of one story and then another, as we follow Laura in the present, Eunice and Bomber working at a 1970s publishing company, and vignettes that Anthony wrote about the owners of the lost objects. Hogan has an effortless touch to her writing and I would have happily read entire novels about any of these story lines.

Sometimes a reader just needs a story where everything will turn out alright in the end and people are still motivated by doing the right, good thing. You will find that story here, with the perfect balance of tragedy and joy to keep you turning pages. The Keeper of Lost Things reminds us that there are people who pay attention to others, people who are still willing to be kind, and people willing to help us put the pieces back together after a terrible loss.

The Keeper of Lost Things
By Ruth Hogan
William Morrow February 2017
288 pages
From the library

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: The Baker's Secret

Emma's life has been brutally turned upside down by the arrival of German troops in her small French village. Her father has been imprisoned, the love of her life has been forced to fight for the Germans, and her mentor was murdered just for being Jewish. Emma no longer needs the fancy frosting techniques she learned from the local baker, but she has been conscripted to bake loaves of bread for the German troops. She adds straw to the batter, which makes 12 loaves into 14, so she can take that bread to the hungriest people in the village. Emma's two extra loaves turns into a stealthy effort to steal, trade, and barter whatever her neighbors need to stay alive and safe. But her carefully planned days are about to come to an end--Emma and her neighbors live on the shore of Normandy.

I love reading about the WWII era and it seems that Stephen P. Kiernan loves writing about it; his previous book The Hummingbird was about a Japanese pilot with plans to bomb the west coast of the US. While that novel had dual narratives in the present and in the 1940s, The Baker's Secret is wholly set in one small town, mostly during the war years. Kiernan does a wonderful job of portraying people who seem to be working for the German troops, while simultaneously working in the Resistance, helping their family and neighbors to survive, and praying for the day when their village will be free again. Emma bakes bread for the troops while also bringing food and other necessities to those around her, the local fisherman goes out for another catch so his neighbors don't starve, a local cafe owner inflates prices for the troops but not the townsfolk, and a beautiful woman starts dating a German commander to save herself from the unchecked desires of his troops.

In some ways, this book reminded me of the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. In both books, you see neighbors and friends sacrificing for each other. The author clearly took the time to really develop all of the characters. Even though we experience the story through Emma's eyes, it feels like you know the village veterinarian, Emma's beloved and senile grandmother, and Emma's former classmate who constantly frustrates her. It's fascinating to watch these lifelong relationships change through the crucible of war.

While the characters in this book are doing their best to make it through each day under the rule of volatile and unpredictable German troops, the tension rises for the reader because you know the significance of their location although the characters do not. This is the sort of story you want to clear your weekend to read, because you won't want to stop once you get invested in Emma, her neighbors, and the village of Vergers.

The Baker's Secret
By Stephen P. Kiernan
William Morrow May 2017
320 pages
Received for review from the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Do you want to learn more about this book? Visit the Harper Collins website here or check out more reviews at TLC Book Tours!

Monday, May 1, 2017

It's Monday; how was your Readathon?

Hello bookish people! Did any of you participate in the 24 Hour Readathon this weekend? How did it go for you?

A week ago, I was on a plane home from Scotland. I read A Bridge Across the Ocean on the plane. Then during the Readathon this weekend, I read volume 1 of March, Exit West, and The Baker's Secret. 


Next up, I will be finishing The Home That Was Our Country.

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

24 Hour Readathon (Spring 2017)

Hour 24 Update (or so)
Really, the readathon has been over for many hours but this is the first time I've been home for more than a few minutes! We had church this morning and then drove to a family event.

The readathon was great for me this time around! I finished two books and a graphic memoir, and listened to a few chapters of my audiobook, Cinnamon and Gunpowder.

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? I don't know that I would call it daunting, but I tend to bow out around 17, since I have to be a functioning human being at church on Sunday morning.
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a reader engaged for next year? The March graphic novel was a great quick read!
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season? Nope. As always, the organizers are awesome!
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Pretty much everything. It's so fun to see everyone so excited about reading and talking books. 
5. How many books did you read? Three
6. What were the names of the books you read? March volume 1, Exit West, and The Baker's Secret
7. Which book did you enjoy most? I am pleased to report that all three books were fantastic. 
8. Which did you enjoy least? See question #7
9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I will definitely read and would love to help out in the fall! 

Hour 12 Update
It's time to take a quick reading break and chat about what we're eating, blogging, and reading!

Since we last chatted, I listened to two chapters of Cinnamon and Gunpowder while making dinner. I read March, volume 1 and finished Exit West. Now I'm reading book #3!

Food: Cheese and crackers, homemade stuffed shells and garlic bread

Drinks: Lots of water (stay hydrated, friends!) and half of a delicious chocolate/coffee drink

Up next: It's bedtime for little people around here, so I've been a bit busy. But now that everyone is tucked in, it's time to get back to it!

Mid-Event Survey!

1. What are you reading right now? I'm a few chapters into The Baker's Secret by Stephen Kiernan. 

2. How many books have you read so far? Two

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I'm really enjoying The Baker's Secret so far. I may try to sneak in some short stories or poems, though!

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Well, that's not a very nice way to talk about my kids! But really, it's been ok. I get as much reading done as I can and don't stress about also doing things like giving baths or making another round of toast. 

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? Nothing yet, but we still have 12 hours to go!

So friends, how is your readathon going? What is your favorite book so far?

Hour Six Update

Hello fellow readers! How is it going? Have you read a million books? Finished a whole pot of coffee?

I haven't finished any books yet, but I am close to finishing Exit West. I think I will break things up with a graphic novel before reading the last chapters.

166 pages read

Food: Blueberry muffins and some of the macaroni and cheese from the kid's lunch

Drinks: A few glasses of water. No coffee yet, but the time will come!

Up Next: Little girl is due for a nap soon and then big brother is going to run some errands with dad. I'm going to practice my music for church tomorrow, throw in a load of laundry while listening to my audiobook, and then get back to reading!

How is your readathon going?

The Beginning
(the part where I overslept)

You know what's really fun? When you cheekily write the night before that "the Readathon waits for no woman who oversleeps" and then you accidentally leave your phone on silent.


Well, an hour and half into the thing I am here, armed with book #1 and a tall glass of water. Let's get started!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? I am in New Jersey, sitting in my bed right now since the kids wanted to take part in the cherished Saturday morning cartoon tradition.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I'm starting off with Exit West by Mohsim Hamid and I've heard great things!
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? When I get a little more awake, I bought some blueberry muffins for a happy breakfast. 
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! Freelance editor, singer, baker, introvert. 
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I have done many readathons. I don't know that I will do anything differently, but I have learned not to stress and see where the day and the books take me!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Twas the Night Before Readathon (Spring 2017)

Hi all! It's almost here!

The 24 Hour Readathon starts in just 10 hours. Hooray! If you haven't signed up yet, hop over and do it right now! Tomorrow is a day to read as much as you want (or can) and hang out on the internet with other people who love reading just as much as you do.

Here are my books:

The Baker's Secret
The Bees (poetry)
March (graphic novel) 
Exit West 

I also had my husband pick up Music for Wartime (short stories) from the library for me. And I've already started The Home that Was Our Country on my kindle and Cinnamon and Gunpowder as an audiobook. I think I'm going to be set for tomorrow.

With that in mind. I'm off to get organized and get to bed early. The readathon starts promptly and will wait for no woman who overslept!

What are you reading for the 24 Hour Readathon?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Mini-reviews: Girl in Disguise and By Any Name

Kate Warne is a unique woman, so she seeks a unique career. She is not content to be a governess or seamstress; instead, she applies to be a Pinkerton detective. Her boss is initially hesitant, but he decides to give her a try. Once she shows what she can do, she becomes a vital part of the Pinkerton team as she can go places and hear things that her male colleagues cannot. Based on the cases of the first female Pinkerton detective, Girl in Disguise follow Kate as she runs right into danger discovering thieves, working as a spy, and maybe even saving the president.

It's great fun to follow Kate from case to case and witness her defy the expectations of her co-workers. Unfortunately, you never quite feel like you know Kate the person. I don't think this is Mcallister's fault though; she writes in the notes that none of Kate's personal records survived. It must be difficult to bring a character to life based on some brief case notes that other people wrote. Even if our protagonist never quite comes off the page, I would still recommend this one as a way to learn a little about an incredible woman who was the first in her field.

Girl in Disguise
By Greer Macallister
Sourcebooks Landmark March 2017
308 pages
Read via Netgalley

Rida's daughters have spent a lifetime trying to understand their strong and enigmatic mother. She met their father Spencer at a dance for officers during WWII, where she was spotted wearing four engagement rings. But Rida leaves all of those men to marry Spencer and spend a lifetime defying the conventions of Spencer's wealthy and ordered family. Rida's daughters know that their time with their elderly mother is short, and they are comparing notes about what they know of their mom.

Like many young people in the 1990s, I loved reading Cynthia Voight's Homecoming series. She excels at writing about the bonds of family and the ways that people both encourage and disappoint their loved ones. So I was excited to see that she had written a novel for adults. This isn't my favorite of her books, but it is a clear-eyed look at the bravery and cost of being an independent woman during the 20th century. Rida is a woman who approaches her marriage or her children with her own rules and expectations and she certainly doesn't let societal norms of the day keep her from becoming a successful landlord before it was acceptable for women to do so.  By Any Name is a great read for anyone who has loved her books before and a perfect introduction to her writing for the reader who is encountering her for the first time.

By Any Name
By Cynthia Voight
Diversion Publishing April 2017
270 pages
Read via Netgalley